CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0077


“The Court cannot take judicial notice of the assessed or market value of lands.


CASE: The Heirs of the late Sps. Alejandro Ramiro and Felicisima Llamada, namely: Henry L. Ramiro; Merlyn R. Taguba; Marlon L. Ramiro; Maridel R. Santella, Wilma L. Ramiro; Vilma R. Cielo and Carolyn R. Cordero vs. Sps. Eleodoro and Verna Bacaron [G.R. No. 196874, February 06, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Francis H. Jardeleza

SUBJECT:
A.       REMEDIAL LAW:
          i.        Jurisdiction over the subject matter
          ii.       Incapable of pecuniary estimation
          iii.      Real action
          iv.      Judicial notice

FACTS:        Sps. Eleodoro and Verna Bacaron (Sps. Bacaron) filed a complaint denominated as one for the declaration of validity of the Deed of Sale and for specific performance before the RTC against the Heirs of Sps. Alejandro Ramiro and Felicisima Llamada (petitioners).

Sps. Bacaron, however, amended their complaint. In their amended complaint, Sps. Bacaron claimed that the father of petitioners, the late Alejandro Ramiro (Alejandro), was the registered owner of a lot containing an area of 48,639 square meters and covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-12524; that Alejandro and his wife, Felicisima Llamada (spouses Ramiro), sold the property to Sps. Bacaron, as evidenced by a Deed of Saleexecuted on October 20, 1991; that Sps. Bacaron took possession of the property after the sale; that the property, however, was earlier mortgaged by spouses Ramiro to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP); that Sps. Bacaron paid the DBP P430,150.00 for the redemption of the property; and that in June 1998, petitioners forcibly dispossessed Sps. Bacaron of the property.

Petitioners, on the other hand, denied the material allegations of the amended complaint, raising, among others, as affirmative defense the RTC’s lack of jurisdiction over the case considering that the complaint  involves recovery of possession of the property Sps. Bacaron should have alleged the assessed value of the subject property.

After trial on the merits, the RTC rendered a decision in favor of Sps. Bacaron.

Aggrieved, petitioners appealed to the CA.

The CA dismissed the appeal and affirmed the RTC Decision in toto. The CA upheld the jurisdiction of the RTC over the subject matter of the case. Noting that the amended complaint alleged causes of action for the declaration of validity of the Deed of Sale or specific performance, and recovery of possession, damages, attorney’s fees and injunction all of which are incapable of pecuniary estimation.

Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied by the CA.

Hence, petitioner filed a petition under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. Petitioners argue that the action is not under the RTC’s jurisdiction because it is not incapable of pecuniary estimation. They contend that the main thrust of Sps. Bacaron’ complaint before the RTC is the recovery of possession of the property. This is allegedly evident from Sps. Bacaron’s amended complaint which seeks, among others, to cancel OCT No. P-12524 covering the property, to have a new title issued in their name, and to place Sps. Bacaron in peaceful and undisturbed possession of the property. In view of these allegations, petitioners posit that the complaint should be filed with the court having jurisdiction based on the assessed value of the property. In this case, however, there was no effort on the part of Sps. Bacaron to allege the assessed value of the property.


ISSUES:
A.       Whether the RTC acquired jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action.
          a.       Whether the action filed by Sps. Bacaron is incapable of pecuniary estimation in nature.
          b.       What vests a trial court jurisdiction over the subject matter or nature of the action?


RULING:
A.      
Section 19 of B.P. Blg. 129, as amended by R.A. No. 7691, provides that the RTC shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction on the following actions:

Sec. 19. Jurisdiction in civil cases. – Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction.

(1) In all civil actions in which the subject of the litigation is incapable of pecuniary estimation;

(2) In all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein, where the assessed value of the property involved exceeds Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000,00) or, for civil actions in Metro Manila, where such value exceeds Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) except actions for forcible entry into and unlawful detainer of lands or buildings, original jurisdiction over which is conferred upon the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts;
x x x x

Meanwhile, Section 33 of the same law provides the exclusive original jurisdiction of the first level courts, viz.:

Sec. 33. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Civil Cases. – Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:
x x x x

(3) Exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil actions which involve title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest therein does not exceed Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorney’s fees, litigation expenses and costs:

Provided, That in cases of land not declared for taxation purposes, the value of such property shall be determined by the assessed value of the adjacent lots.

Settled is the rule that the nature of the action and which court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over the same is determined by the material allegations of the complaint, the type of relief prayed for by the plaintiff and the law in effect when the action is filed, irrespective of whether the plaintiffs are entitled to some or all of the claims asserted therein. 

As such, when the main relief sought is specific performance, the action is incapable of pecuniary estimation within the exclusive jurisdiction of the RTC. When the action, on the other hand, primarily involves title to, or possession of land, the court which has exclusive original jurisdiction over the same is determined by the assessed value of the property.

Sps. Bacaron’ amended complaint pertinently contains, among others, the following reliefs sought:

a.)      directing the defendants to return unto the plaintiffs the possession of the subject property; and enjoining and prohibiting said defendants from further effecting and causing whatever acts of disturbances in contravention of plaintiffs[‘] peaceful possession of the property;

b.)      that after the fact and verity of the subject property’s sale (in plaintiffs’ favor) shall have been proved and established in the course of the proceedings of the above-entitled case, the validity and effectivity of said sale be categorically declared and upheld: Or otherwise, defendants be ordered and directed to execute the proper deed or instrument of conveyance and transfer of the subject property in plaintiffs’ favor;

c.)      that [the] Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-12524 be ordered cancelled and in lieu thereof, another title be accordingly issued in the name of the plaintiffs; and

d.)      that the plaintiffs be ordered placed in a peaceful and undisturbed possession over the property.

It is clear that while Sps. Bacaron claim that their amended complaint before the RTC is denominated as one for the declaration of validity of the Deed of Sale and for specific performance, the averments in their amended complaint and the character of the reliefs sought therein reveal that the action primarily involves title to or possession of real property. An action “involving title to real property” means that the plaintiff’s cause of action is based on a claim that he owns such property or that he has the legal rights to have exclusive control, possession, enjoyment, or disposition of the same. Title is the “legal link between (1) a person who owns property and (2) the property itself.”

The ultimate relief sought by Sps. Bacaron is for the recovery of the property through the enforcement of its sale in their favor by the late spouses Ramiro. Their other causes of action for the cancellation of the original title and the issuance of a new one in their name, as well as ‘for injunction and damages, are merely incidental to the recovery of the property. Before any of the other reliefs Sps. Bacaron prayed for in their complaint can be granted, the issue of who between them and petitioners has the valid title to the lot must first be determined.

Similarly in Gochan v. Gochan (G.R. No. 14608 , December 13, 2001),  we ruled that where a complaint is entitled as one for specific performance but nonetheless prays for the issuance of a deed of sale for a parcel of land, its primary objective and nature is one to recover the parcel of land itself and is, thus, deemed a real action. Accordingly, under these circumstances, the court which has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case is determined by the assessed value of the subject property.

Here, Sps. Bacaron neither alleged the assessed value of the property. The Court cannot take judicial notice of the assessed or market value of lands. Thus, absent any allegation in the complaint of the assessed value of the property, it cannot be determined which between the RTC or the Municipal Trial Court had original and exclusive jurisdiction over Sps. Bacaron’ action. Consequently, the complaint filed before the RTC should be dismissed.

Furthermore, it is not simply the filing of the complaint or appropriate initiatory pleading but the payment of the prescribed docket fee that vests a trial court with jurisdiction over the subject matter or nature of the action.In resolving the issue of whether or not the correct amount of docket fees were paid, it is also necessary to determine the true nature of the complaint. Having settled that the action instituted by Sps. Bacaron is a real action and not one incapable of pecuniary estimation, the basis for determining the correct docket fees shall, therefore, be the assessed value of the property, or the estimated value thereof as alleged by the claimant. As already discussed, however, Sps. Bacaron did not allege the assessed value of the property in their amended complaint. They also did not allege its estimated value. As a result, the correct docket fees could not have been computed and paid by Sps. Bacaron and the RTC could not have acquired jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case. All the proceedings before it are consequently null and void.

Related Case Briefs:
a.       Hilario v. Salvador, G.R. No. 160384, April 29, 2005
b.       Padlan v. Dinglasan, G.R. No. 180321, March 20, 2013
c.       Zuñiga-Santos v. Santos-Gran, G.R. No. 197380, October 8, 2014
d.       Heirs of Toring v. Heirs of Boquilaga, G.R. No. 163610, September 27, 2010
e.       Alfredo v. Spouses Borras, G.R. No. 144225, June 17, 2003
f.        Pingol v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 102909, September 6, 1993
————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A.       Settled is the rule that the nature of the action and which court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over the same is determined by the material allegations of the complaint, the type of relief prayed for by the plaintiff and the law in effect when the action is filed, irrespective of whether the plaintiffs are entitled to some or all of the claims asserted therein.

As such, when the main relief sought is specific performance, the action is incapable of pecuniary estimation within the exclusive jurisdiction of the RTC. When the action, on the other hand, primarily involves title to, or possession of land, the court which has exclusive original jurisdiction over the same is determined by the assessed value of the property.

B.       An action “involving title to real property” means that the plaintiff’s cause of action is based on a claim that he owns such property or that he has the legal rights to have exclusive control, possession, enjoyment, or disposition of the same. Title is the “legal link between (1) a person who owns property and (2) the property itself.”

C.       Where a complaint is entitled as one for specific performance but nonetheless prays for the issuance of a deed of sale for a parcel of land, its primary objective and nature is one to recover the parcel of land itself and is, thus, deemed a real action.

D.       The Court cannot take judicial notice of the assessed or market value of lands. Thus, absent any allegation in the complaint of the assessed value of the property, it cannot be determined which between the RTC or the Municipal Trial Court had original and exclusive jurisdiction over Sps. Bacaron’ action. Consequently, the complaint filed before the RTC should be dismissed.

E.       It is not simply the filing of the complaint or appropriate initiatory pleading but the payment of the prescribed docket fee that vests a trial court with jurisdiction over the subject matter or nature of the action. In resolving the issue of whether or not the correct amount of docket fees were paid, it is also necessary to determine the true nature of the complaint.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


LET US KNOW. Feel free to suggest edits/changes by commenting below or email us at stare101decisis@gmail.com

FOR MORE CASE BRIEFS visit us at Stare Decisis or like us on Facebook – @staredecisispage – and stay updated on latest Case BrieFs.

KEEP IN TOUCH with us by following us on our official Twitter account – @ Stare_Decisis1.

======================